On May 19, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (“SWM”) released its Fiscal Year 2011 budget recommendations. Thank you to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless for the budget summary below:
A Quick Look at Selected Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Line Items
Emergency Assistance Family Shelter and Services Program (EA, Line Item 7004-0101 and Outside Sections 13 and 14): The Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget would reduce funding for the Emergency Assistance program from the current FY’10 appropriation level of $151.7 million (which includes $60.1 million from two mid-year supplemental appropriations) to just under $117 million for FY’11. This amount is, slightly higher than the House amount.
Unlike the House, SWM did not propose the creation of a new line item (House line item 7004-0105) to provide housing subsidies to reduce the number of families in shelter, but rather, included a $3.5 million earmark in the EA line item. SWM was more explicit in the use of the funds: aiding families in finding temporary and permanent housing; gradually reducing reliance on motels as EA placements; and reducing families’ average length of stay in shelter.
Senate Ways and Means moved some language from the EA line item into Outside Sections 13 and 14. The SWM Executive Summary provides the rationale for these changes: “In order to preserve the resources allocated to the family shelter system, the Committee has strengthened existing eligibility criteria and service provisions by codifying elements of the line item language in the General Laws. By including this language in statute, the Committee has streamlined and clarified service delivery to assist in the midst of declining resources.”
SWM retained language from the FY’10 budget that would allow families to receive temporary shelter placements while gathering needed verifications (moving this language from the EA line item to Outside Section 13); provide six month grace periods to families that exceed the EA eligibility limit while in shelter; as well as language that would require the Administration to track and report on who is approved for shelter, who is denied, the outcomes for families participating in the program, etc. New tracking language regarding outcomes for families receiving transitional housing and short-term housing assistance also was included, as in the House. The line item also incorporates language to allow funds from the account to be expended for “transitional housing that may include temporary rental assistance and stabilization services to bridge families to permanent housing at a lesser cost than shelter”.
Senate Ways and Means included new language requiring DHCD to use its “best efforts” to ensure that families placed by the program have “access to refrigeration and basic cooking facilities”.
SWM reduced the length of the required advanced notice period before the Administration could implement any eligibility or benefit changes in the face of a deficit to 45 days. For FY’10, this period is 60 days. In light of the anticipated severe underfunding of the account, the final House budget included a 90-day advanced notice provision, and would prohibit DHCD from giving such notice before December 5, 2010, so as to allow the Legislature time to take action, if needed, after returning to formal sessions on January 5, 2011.
Shelter and Services for Unaccompanied Adults (Line Item 7004-0102): The SWM budget would fund the line item that provides funding for shelter and services for unaccompanied individuals at-risk and experiencing homelessness at $37.3 million, slightly lower than the House amount of $37.6 million. This amount is $1.1 million more than the FY’10 appropriation.
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, Line Item 7004-9024 and Outside Section 116): The SWM budget would fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $37.9 million, a $2.5 million increase over FY’10 funding $35.4 million. This includes $35.2 million in direct line item funding ($200,000 less than the House amount) and $2.7 million from the Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority (MassHousing), which has contributed funds to support MRVP for the past few fiscal years.
Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program (RAFT, Line Item 7004-9316): The SWM budget would increase funding for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program to $1 million for FY’11, up from $160,000 in FY’10. This is dramatically lower than the proposed funding at the start of FY’10, when the Legislature initially funded RAFT at $5 million, but much higher than the Governor’s recommended funding level of $60,000 and the House’s recommended funding level of $260,000. While not a substitute for RAFT, some families that otherwise could have been served by RAFT in FY’11 may be able to receive assistance through the federally funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP).
Public Housing Authority Operating Subsidies (Line Item 7004-9005): The SWM budget would increase funding for public housing authority operating subsidies by $2 million, so as to provide $64.5 million for FY’11. The additional funds are earmarked to be used to repair and bring back online family units that have been vacant for more than sixty days. Both the Governor and House recommended level funding the account at the final FY’10 level of $62.5 million.
DHCD Administrative Account (Line Item 7004-0099): Senate Ways and Means did not include language that would protect households that receive a short-term subsidy from losing priority for a permanent housing subsidy. Such language was included in the final House version of the budget.